Core spinning is an excellent method to create wild yarns, and the opportunities for spinning fun, textured fibers around a core thread are endless. Typically, this yarn construction includes two elements: a core thread and fibers that are wrapped on the surface, covering the thread.
I love exploring the full range of texture from tame to wild by using as many combinations of fibers, embellishments, and core threads as I can dream up. For example, you can keep your core-spun yarns smooth and fine by using a lightly textured art batt. To increase the texture, you can go wild with locks and embellishments. Changing the core threads to hemp, wire, or elastic provides even more avant-garde opportunities in your handspun.
Choosing a Core
When core spinning, twist inserted into the yarn by the wheel is transferred to the core, not the wrapping fiber. This can stress the core thread, particularly when creating heavily textured yarns. For that reason, I prefer core spinning on crochet cotton, loop mohair, or brushed mohair threads. These threads are strong enough to be put under tension without breaking, and they can take a lot of twist without a struggle.
The millspun core options shown here start with a balanced twist, so some spinners like to add twist in one direction to the core and then core spin in the opposite direction to balance the twist once again. I don’t usually do this because I like extra texture and energy in my handspun. If my core thread collects too much twist, it might become difficult to manage. If this happens, I continue core spinning over the section with extra twist and then move forward on new, balanced thread.
My suggestion is not to worry about keeping your core thread perfectly balanced while you core spin. With practice and experience, your core-spun yarns will become more balanced.
Core spinning on a spindle can be great fun, but I focus on using a spinning wheel in these tutorials. Smoother, finer core-spun yarns are easy to accomplish on most modern spinning wheels. Some spinning wheels are specifically designed to allow you to easily create larger gauge or textured yarns. Look for wheels that offer a larger orifice, hooks or pegs that will not snag fibers, and slow pulleys.
I always recommend core spinning with your slowest ratio, especially for spinners new to this technique. Using a pulley (whorl) with a ratio of 6:1 or lower is ideal. If you are continually getting too much twist in the core thread as you spin, and if you’ve already lowered the ratio, try treadling slower. As you get more experience core spinning, you might find that a slightly higher speed helps you spin at a more comfortable pace.
What Type of Spinner Are You?
I think there are two types of spinners when it comes to take-up tension: givers and takers. Givers like to spin a length of yarn and “give” it to the wheel. They feed their bobbin in long lengths of yarn. Takers like to feel their wheel pull the yarn into the orifice while spinning. As they spin, they continually feed yarn into the bobbin.
If you are a giver, you will most likely need to increase tension for core spinning. Most core-spun yarns are bulkier than traditional yarns, and bulky yarns typically require more take-up. However, don’t set the tension so high that the yarn is yanked into the wheel and you can’t control it.
If you are a taker who usually spins with high take-up tension, you might need to decrease your wheel tension for core spinning. This will give you the extra time you need to wrap the fiber around the core before it pulls into the orifice. Your tension should gently pull the yarn through the orifice as you are core spinning at a speed that works for you, without building up too much twist or allowing the yarn to fall apart from too little twist. (For more help, see Troubleshooting below.)
Tips for Fine-Tuning Wild Texture
Building on these basic core-spun yarn designs you will discover many other opportunities to modify structure and texture.
Wire core yarns are fun to sculpt into vessels, weave into textured cloth, and more. Beading wire and floral wire work well and are available at most craft stores. To start, take 12–18 inches of wire off the spool and then secure the spool so the rest of the wire does not unwind from the spool as you spin. Secure the wrapping fiber and begin core spinning down the wire. When you reach the spool, unwind another short length and secure the spool again. While you spin, twist will travel down the wire and cause the spool to spin freely as you wrap the fiber around the wire core.
Elastic yarns are fun to use in scarves and cowls to create ruffles and texture. Using an elastic yarn under tension in a mixed warp when weaving will create ruffles in your fabric when you take it off the loom. I recommend the elastic thread used for smocking because it has cotton around it that provides a surface texture for the fiber to grab on to. When core spinning your fiber over the elastic thread, keep the thread under tension (stretched) while you core spin. However, be careful not to overstretch or break the elastic.
Surface Thread Wrap
A thread wrap can be used to embellish your yarn and secure wild texture, such as locks. If you have a traditional tube orifice, you can set your thread cone or spool on the floor between your feet and let the thread travel up to the orifice and wrap around the yarn before it goes into the orifice. However, if you have an open or delta orifice or simply want more control, hold the thread with your finger to prevent the thread from getting tangled around the orifice. For additional color and texture, try adding multiple types of threads on the surface of your core-spun yarns.
Too much twist? Make sure you are using your slowest ratio, and if so, treadle slower. Many experienced spinners core spin fiber over any sections of core thread that have built up excess twist; it does not create a problem.
Too little twist? Adjust your wheel to a faster ratio. For a smaller adjustment, try treadling a little faster.
Take-up problems? If the yarn is not pulling onto the bobbin, add tension. Still no take-up? Check your flyer guides. If they are narrow or hooked, they may grab onto textures or bulkier yarns.
Orifice problems? The size and type of your orifice may limit the type of core-spun yarns that you can spin on your wheel. If you have a narrow orifice, you won’t be able to fit bulkier textures into it. Take note of the size of your orifice and as you are drafting fiber onto your core thread, don’t draft more than will fit through your orifice. An open orifice or one that can be bypassed allows for the most dramatic and wild core-spinning textures.
Slippery locks falling off the core? Try spinning very slippery locks while they are slightly damp. The water creates a natural friction that secures the locks and makes them easier to core spin around the core thread.
Core Spinning Art Batts
Prep: Split your batt into strips if desired. Predraft the carded fiber so that it is loose enough to allow the fibers to easily slip past one another.
Materials: Brushed mohair core and an art batt from Classy Squid Fiber Co.
Insert the core thread into a bobbin leader with a loop. Hold the fluffy end of your predrafted fiber at a 90-degree angle to the core where it meets the leader (fig. 1). Begin treadling slowly as you allow the fiber to catch onto the thread and begin wrapping (fig. 2). After it catches, continue holding it at a 90-degree angle, bringing the fiber down the core thread as it wraps (fig. 3). Treadle slowly using a slow ratio so you don’t build up too much twist as the fiber is pulled from the fiber supply and wraps around the core. When you are done spinning, tie the end of the yarn in a knot. If you have active twist that built up during core spinning, keep the yarn under tension as you wind it into a skein and don’t allow the ends to go slack, or they may ravel. Wash or steam to finish.
Controlling texture: With this core-spinning method, the thickness of the yarn is determined by the amount of fiber you allow to wrap around the core. You can fine-tune this during predrafting, or by holding the fiber supply closer to or farther from the core during spinning. For a bulkier yarn, allow more fiber to wrap around the core. For a thinner yarn, allow less fiber to wrap around the core.
Core Spinning Locks
Prep: Handpick your locks, slightly teasing them so that some of the locks remain intact but there are separated fibers that can easily grab onto the core.
Materials: Brushed mohair core and washed Teeswater locks.
Hold the slightly teased locks at a 90-degree angle to the brushed mohair core thread (fig. 1). As the locks begin wrapping around and down the core, continue holding the fiber at a 90-degree angle (fig. 2). Place your index finger under the fiber as you spin to smooth, support, and control the fiber as it wraps (fig. 3).
A mohair core thread works great for wool locks because the fuzzy texture is easy for the locks to grab onto. Using a mohair core thread that matches your locks is ideal, so it blends in with the final yarn.
Controlling texture: The more you handpick the locks, the fuzzier your yarn will appear. More picking will allow you to spin a smoother yarn that covers more of the core, while less picking produces a wild, natural texture.
Core Spinning Coils
Prep: Spin a singles yarn with Z-twist (clockwise).
Materials: Cotton crochet thread for the core and a slightly textured singles yarn for wrapping.
Tie the core thread and wrapping yarn into a knot and secure to the bobbin leader. Begin spinning with S-twist (counterclockwise) so that you are core spinning opposite the direction that the wrapping yarn was spun. As you treadle, hold the wrapping yarn at a 90-degree angle to the core thread (fig. 1). To create a loose coil, allow the core thread to show between the yarn wraps (fig. 2). To create a dense coil, allow the wrapping yarn to accumulate on several inches of the core and then push the wraps forward (fig. 3).
Cotton crochet thread works best for this core as it is very strong and smooth enough to push your yarn forward without too much friction. If you prefer core spinning with Z-twist, simply spin the wrapping singles with S-twist.
Controlling texture: You can produce wildly different coils by changing the gauge and texture of the singles yarn that is used to wrap the core. Try consistent singles, both fine and bulky, for a smooth coil yarn, or you can try singles with slubs to boost the texture of the final yarn.
Ashley Martineau is the author of Spinning and Dyeing Yarn, a beginner-friendly guide to everything you need to know about spinning your own yarns. She has been spinning unique yarn textures since 2003 and teaches creative spinning lessons on her video channel at www.howtospinyarn.com. Ashley loves her SpinOlution wheel and uses her handspun yarns in handwoven clothing and textiles.